Aquino, Garin, Abad show up at DOJ probe on Dengvaxia

MANILA Former president Benigno Aquino III, former Health Secretary Janette Garin, former Budget chief Florencio Abad and several former and incumbent officials of the Department of Health (DOH) on Monday appeared before the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the continuation of preliminary investigation on the complaint filed by two anti-crime advocacy groups over the controversial anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia.

Aquino, Abad and Garin submitted their counter-affidavit each and sworn to before the DOJ panel, headed by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Rossane Balauag with members, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Hazel Decena Valdez, Assistant State Prosecutors Consuelo Corazon Pazziuagan and Gino Paolo Santiago at the DOJ in response to the criminal complaint filed by newly appointed Philippine Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) Commissioner and Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) lawyer Manuelito Luna and Eligio Mallari of the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution, Inc. (VPCI).

Aside from Aquino, Abad and Garin, also named as respondents were DOH undersecretaries Dr. Carol Tanio, Gerardo Bayugo, Lilibeth David and Mario Villaverde; and assistant secretaries Lyndon Lee Suy and Nestor Santiago were also present take their oaths and submitted their counter-affidavits.

Others named were the health department's Financial Management Service director Laureano Cruz; directors Dr. Joyce Ducusin, Dr. May Wynn Belo, Dr. Leonila Gorgolon, Dr. Rio Magpantay, Dr. Ariel Valencia and Dr. Julius Lecciones; retired health undersecretaries Dr. Nemesio Gako, Dr. Vicente Belizario Jr., and Dr. Kenneth Hartigan-Go; and Dr. Yolanda Oliveros, who served as Garin's head executive assistant.

The charged health officials and employees as well as officials of the pharmaceutical company Zuellig, which supplied the controversial Dengvaxia vaccine also filed their respective individual and/or joint counter-affidavits, also urging the DOJ to dismiss the complaint.

Sanofi Pasteur, the Dengvaxia manufacturer, also named respondents are not present during Monday's hearing. The panel was informed they have not received copies of their subpoenas.

During Monday's hearing, Balauag gave the complainants to submit on June 22 at 10 a.m. its reply to the counter-affidavits submitted by the respondents and also ordered to present their witness.

The VACC and VPCI filed the complaint against the three and several others for possible violation of Section 3 of Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act); Section 65 of RA 9184 (Government Procurement, Reform Act); Article 220 (Technical Malversation) of the Revised Penal Code; Article 365 (Criminal Negligence) of the Revised Penal Code; and for other violations of the law.

Noynoy: No proof showing Dengvaxia is deadly

After submitting their counter-affidavit, Aquino, Garin and Abad denied any irregularities over the anti-vaccine program during their term.

The former president, in his defense, said that to date, there has been no categorical finding by medical experts that the dengue vaccine has directly caused the deaths of vaccinated children.

At the time of the funding approval, there was no evidence adduced by the experts that the vaccine was not safe and effective, he added.

Aquino also insisted that the Dengvaxia program underwent proper procurement process.

There has not been any definitive finding by any court, tribunal or fact-finding body as to whether the deaths suffered were directly attributable to the vaccine, he noted.

Aquino said the program was above board, and conceived to address the increasing threat of the disease.

Aquino belittled the complaint filed against him saying that what the complainants submitted were full transcripts of the testimonies gathered during the investigation conducted by Congress on the Dengvaxia mess without even zeroing on their evidence against him and the other respondents.

It's like they submitted a little half a meter tall of full transcripts of the testimonies of the witnesses during the [Senate] investigation and it's like that they had left it to the panel to look for their evidence, Aquino told reporters.

Aquino also insisted that the government's apparent haste in implementing the Dengvaxia vaccine program in April was to address the rapidly increasing number of dengue cases in the country .

He noted that from 121,580 dengue cases in the country in 2014, the number drastically increased to 200,415 cases.

Aquino also cited the findings of Sanofi that Dengvaxia would be largely beneficial for both those who had dengue before and those who have not been exposed with the illness.

He noted that based on Sanofi's assurance that only 0.2 percent are in danger of experiencing a severe dengue out of the 830,000 who were given the shots.

Aquino also hinted of political motives behind those pushing the Dengvaxia issue against him.

This will give a lot of publicity to those responsible for these filing of cases. I just don't know if this has something to do with the election next year. Maybe, as early as now they need to generate recall, Aquino said.

Aquino urged the DOJ to dismiss the complaint for the complainants' failure to sufficiently allege and substantiate the facts necessary to warrant his indictment.

To date, there has been no categorical finding by medical experts that the dengue vaccine has directly caused the deaths of vaccinated children, the former chief executive said.

In his 27-page counter-affidavit, Aquino noted the voluminous documents submitted by the VACC and VPCI before the DOJ panel of prosecutors purportedly in support of their complaint.

However, Aquino noted that out of these documents, only three documents were relied upon and referenced by the complainants to substantiate their allegation.

He noted that the complainants failed to explain the relevance documents that were attached to the complaint, leaving the panel headed by Balauag to speculate on their supposed relevance.

Aquino added that most of the documents submitted were full transcripts of the testimonies given by the witnesses during the Senate investigation on the Dengvaxia mess.

To be sure, my co-respondents and I cannot be reasonably expected to intelligently and adequately address or even tackle these unidentified documents that were not even referred to or cited in the complaint when we have not been informed as to how these documents support the charges against us, Aquino said.

Complainants' abject failure to provide sufficient based in fact and law to sustain the offenses charged and a finding of probable cause must and should lead to the outright dismissal of the complainant fled before this Honorable Panel, he added.

Likewise, Aquino raised the possibility of the complainants violating the rule on forum shopping considering the filing of similar cases by same parties before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Office of the Ombudsman.

This is clearly the case here. A quick-read through of the complaint easily shows that all the allegations are totally bereft of any credible and substantial basis, as they merely rely on speculation, without any credible evidence whatsoever, Aquino's counter-affidavit read.

In fact, they simply restate verbatim the allegations of the complaint that they originally filed with the Comelec over the same set of factual circumstances, except only for the addition of allegations pertaining to procurement, fund release, and criminal negligence, it added. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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